1st Oct 2023

EU court backs UK patient on refund for treatment abroad

The EU's top court has backed an argument that European patients should be refunded for their health treatment abroad if it was undertaken due to long waiting lists in their home country.

In a pre-judgement opinion issued on Thursday (15 December), the advocate-general for the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice argued that EU citizens can receive certain medical services across the union, and the refund for their costs abroad "may not be refused if the treatment is one which is normally provided and cannot be granted without undue delay in the home member state".

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"The sickness insurance fund is then obliged to reimburse the person for the costs incurred", the advocate added.

On average, the court follows the advice of its advocates in an estimated 80 percent of cases, so it is quite likely the judges will later endorse his opinion.

Thursday's case involves a complaint from Yvonne Watts, a 74-year-old British woman with serious arthritis, who went to France for a hip operation after she was told she would have to wait up to four months to get the treatment in Britain.

The home insurance authorities had refused to authorise Mrs Watt's operation abroad, and the UK High Court later rejected her application for the refund of her costs worth around €6,000 on the basis that there was no "undue delay" in her case.

But the advocate general Leendert Adrie Geelhoed disagreed.

He stated that the British National Health Service (NHS) does not have "a clearly defined procedure" for considering applications for treatment abroad, meaning patients have restricted possibilities to seek treatment outside the system.

"It therefore constitutes a restriction of their freedom to receive services and is contrary to the EC Treaty", said Mr Geelhoed.

Pension rights for transsexuals

In separate legal advice announced on Thursday, an advocate general argued that the refusal to grant a pension to a male-to female transsexual at the same time as a woman is contrary to EU laws.

This case was also initiated by a UK citizen, Sarah Margaret Richards, who was born a male but later diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and so underwent gender changing surgery.

As she applied for a retirement pension in 2002 - at her 60th birthday - her request was turned down because she was still considered male, and men retire at 65 in Britain.

But the advocate stated that "it is contrary to Community law for a Member State to refuse to grant a retirement pension before the age of 65 to a male-to-female transsexual where that person would have been entitled to a pension at the age of 60 and she been regarded as a woman as a matter of national law".


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